The first day of Ryan Morrison’s volleyball career was also nearly his last.
After some prodding from his older brother, Kevin, Ryan decided to try out for the freshman team at Highland.
He went out that first day with no clue what to do, played like it, and gave up.
“I was a stupid freshman who didn’t have any confidence in myself,” Morrison said. “I thought that I sucked — which I did. I didn’t know any of the movements or anything. I decided I didn’t want to do this any more.”
The next year Morrison went out for the soccer team, and if he hadn’t been cut, volleyball likely would have been forever in the rearview mirror. Instead, he found himself with some free time, and with Kevin in his ear once again, gave volleyball one more shot.
This time, he showed enough ability to be put on varsity, and from there, he made furious gains, eventually turning into the force which gave teams headaches this season.
Morrison recently finished his senior season with a state-high 387 kills, 102 blocks and 46 aces for the state champion Hawks, going from volleyball dropout to Tribune Player of the Year in the span of four years.
“My brother talked to me, and I realized if I did this, there was coaching that would help me out,” Morrison said. “If I never listened to him I would have never been here. Once I made varsity everything went great. I started helping the team out and eventually evolved into a big gun.”
Highland was seen as one of the top two teams in the state alongside Mesa, and the two met in the state semifinals. The Jackrabbits won the first set, the Hawks the next two, and Mesa the fourth to set up a sprint to 15 points in the fifth and deciding game.
For Morrison, the team had spent too many hours practicing for precisely this moment to fall short.
“It was like, ‘I’m not losing this thing,’” he said.
Highland cruised to the victory, 15-10, but there was still one more big hurdle. The Hawks needed to win one more match to claim the title — and this one just happened to be in Gilbert’s gym against the defending champion Tigers, their fiercest rivals.
Even though Gilbert had won two of the three regular season matchups, Highland showed its mettle, capturing a 25-20, 25-20, 25-22 victory for the program’s third state championship and first since 2005.
Morrison is still mapping out his future, with junior college volleyball in Calif. the most likely possibility at this juncture.
This might not be the end of the line for Morrison dominance at Highland, though. Little brother, Mason, has the makings of a future star, and this time it’s Ryan putting on the full-court press.
“He’s really athletic,” Ryan Morrison said. “He apparently just won the state championship in Pop Warner. I’ve been trying to talk to him about getting into volleyball and he’s been going to the Hawk camps. If he starts now he can be pretty good.”
All-Tribune First Team
Player School Yr. Pos. Comment
Ryan Morrison Highland Sr. OH POY led Arizona in kills (387), led Hawks to state title
JT Hatch Mesa Jr. OH/S Mesa All-City POY did a little bit of everything for Jackrabbits Saige Gonsalves Hamilton Jr. L/OH Premier defender added 295 kills, 55 aces to standout defense
Adam Lincoln Brophy Sr. MB Heart of Broncos had 222 kills with .477 hit percentage
Jalen Cross Perry Jr. MB Cross’ play (279 kills, 98 blocks) big part of Perry resurgence
Kyle Pitman Desert Vista Sr. OH/S One of most versatile players in state led Thunder to No. 1 seed
Player of the Year: Ryan Morrison, Highland.
Coach of the Year: Anthony Millanes, Mesa: Jackrabbits jumped into upper echelon this season by making semifinals and were arguably second best team in state behind Highland
All-Tribune Second Team
Player School Yr. Pos. Comment
Ryne Benson Brophy So. S/Opp Team-best 247 kills, led team in aces (40) with wicked serve
Jared Greene Highland Sr. OH Versatile player had 207 kills, 118 digs, 59 blocks, 16 aces
Jacob Komenda Mesa Jr. Opp Led team in kills (220), added 56 blocks
Rock Shill Mountain View Sr. OH Kill percentage (54.8) and kills per set (3.7) among best
Nick Rockwell Gilbert Jr. S Not only a table-setter for teammates, but key on defense
Cameron Olsen Gilbert Sr. MB Took over as go-to player after graduation gutted Tigers’ rotation
Basha: Dallon Varney, Sr., OH; Brophy: Billy Andrew, Jr., MB; Campo Verde: Paul Singh, Sr., S; Brian Dang, Jr., OH; Chandler: Kameron Casey, Jr., MB; Nathan Milan, Sr., OH; Desert Ridge: Dalyn Worthington, Sr., S; Kory Peterson, Jr., OH; Desert Vista: Garrett Halverson, Sr., OH; Drake Moran, Sr., S; Ryan Adams, Sr., MB; Dobson: Jonathan Figueroa-Perez, Sr., OH; Alex Brusnahan, Sr., S; Gilbert: Jarrett Neal, Sr., OH; McKay Taylor, Sr., Opp; Hamilton: Brian Campbell, Jr., Opp; Matt Baca, Jr., MB; Highland: Collin Ward, Sr., S; Sean Chapman, Jr., OH; Mesa: Michael Shaper, Sr., OH; Clark Fleming, Jr., L; Mesquite: Caleb Brough, Sr,, OH; Mountain Pointe: Austyn Skulkan, Sr., S; Sam Fuller, Sr., MB; Mountain View: Nate Schlappi, Jr., S; Luke Shill, So., OH; Perry: Alex Berghorst, Sr., OH; Mitch Harris, Sr., S/OH; Red Mountain: Mason Njaa, Sr., S/OH; Seton Catholic: Jack-Duke Lawless, Jr., OH; Westwood: Alex Arzaga, Sr., S; Williams Field: Trevor Espinoza, Sr., S; Tyler Wilson, Sr., OH.
Memorable Moments from the 2013 Season
The gym was rocking at Gilbert High as the Tigers and crosstown rival Highland squared off for the state championship. The Hawks were the higher seed, but the predetermined neutral location of Gilbert for the semifinals and finals inadvertently helped the Tigers. It didn’t end up affecting the outcome, as the Highland faithful packed the visitor’s stands and watched as Highland swept the championship match in three games. “That was an experience I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” Highland outside hitter Ryan Morrison said. “We were doing our blocking warmup across the net, and I just remember looking up. Highland and Gilbert (fans) were going back and forth. ‘Gil-bert Ti-gers. High-land Hawks.’ And it was just so loud. I just remember being like, ‘This is going to be crazy.’”
Mesa wins the Wolf Howl
The Jackrabbits have not traditionally been one of Arizona’s better boys volleyball program, but a nice showing in 2012 and a bevy of returners led to higher expectations. Mesa answered the bell, winning the prestigious Chandler Wolf Howl Invitational tournament in the preseason and advancing to the semifinals of the state tournament. Many of the team’s best players were juniors, so the Jackrabbits appear poised to make another deep run next year.
Fred Mann moves on
Mountain Pointe’s legendary coach, Fred Mann, announced after the season that he was leaving to become the girls volleyball coach at Perry. He built arguably the state’s most dominant program, as the Pride captured championships in 1995, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2008 and 2009 under his guidance. He also coached the Mountain Pointe girls team, which won the 2001 state title.